How to Build Diversity Into Workplace Culture

Diversity and inclusivity are undoubtedly buzzwords in today’s workplace. Yet, how many workplaces legitimately build these values into the foundation of their culture? While diversity is endlessly discussed in meetings and on company value pages, it’s never been more important to practice what you preach. 

Workplace diversity is when companies employ individuals with a variety of different characteristics including age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, and cultural background. According to Glassdoor, 67% of job seekers consider workplace diversity as an important factor when considering employment opportunities. More importantly, 50% of current employees want their workplace to actively increase diversity. Clearly, there is work still to be done. 

Though most companies today would argue they’re on top of workplace diversity, the numbers prove otherwise. Today, diversity and inclusion can’t be an afterthought. It needs to be built into the culture of your workplace at every level. From executives to lower-level managers, everyone needs to take an active role in creating an open, inclusive space for all. In this guide, we’ll share practical, actionable ways to build diversity into workplace culture from the ground up. 

Why Is Workplace Diversity so Important?

First, why is workplace diversity so important in today’s world? Aside from encouraging different perspectives and equal opportunities, there are many practical benefits of diversity in the workplace. When employees feel accepted and valued, they’re motivated to do better work. Some of the benefits of workplace diversity include:

  • Innovation: Employees who have different backgrounds and experiences bring new skills and ideas to the table. They’re likely to form a well-rounded, innovative team.
    • Problem-solving: Additionally, having different perspectives represented adds diverse solutions to your company’s arsenal or problem-solving tools. 
    • Employee engagement: According to research, organizations with higher diversity outperform companies with below-average diversity by 46% to 58%. In other words, when employees feel valued, they’re excited to contribute. 
    • Employee retention: Recruiting new employees is expensive and time-consuming. A reported 84% of executives believe a lack of attention to diversity and inclusion contributes to employee turnover. 
  • Customer experience: When your workplace reflects a wider range of customers, you’re better equipped to improve the overall customer experience. 
  • Reputation: Lastly, your reputation is directly tied to your company’s commitment to diversity. This improves how you appear to potential customers as well as potential employees. It’s impossible to exist inside a vacuum today. You need to be mindful of your social responsibility and reputation. 

As you can see, your workplace diversity has tangible benefits on your entire team’s success. Not only will you be better equipped to handle challenges in an innovative way, but your employees and customers will take notice of your efforts. Failing to give diversity the attention it deserves can have a negative impact on your company culture. 

How to Put Diversity First

With that in mind, how do you include diversity at the foundation of your workplace culture? This goes far beyond HR seminars and yearly workshops. Diversity needs to be engaged throughout your entire workforce process. To get started, here are 5 ways to implement diversity initiatives for your workforce. 

1. Start with Leadership

First and foremost, you need to start by educating your workplace leaders. They’re the ones who will be most important in your ongoing efforts. They not only work on the front lines with your employees, but they often have a role within the hiring process. 

How can you focus on diversity within your leadership? To begin, define inclusivity and what it means for your organization. Simply telling leaders they need to be inclusive isn’t enough. You need to explain what that means and how to truly implement it. 

This means educating managers and leaders at every level in unconscious bias, active listening, and supporting other perspectives. Employees need to see their managers taking diversity seriously, and this starts from the top down. It also means making sure people of diverse backgrounds are in positions of power across your organization.

The beverage company Diageo, known for brands like Smirnoff and Ciroc, took a committed approach to top-down diversity and inclusion. Not only do they have 50% female representation on their board and 40% on their executive committee, but they have ambitious goals to support women and minority-owned suppliers across the globe. It’s these kinds of top-down leadership initiatives that show a commitment to inclusivity. 

2. Create Inclusive Policies

Next, create real change with inclusive policies within your organization. Evaluate your current workplace policies, and don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from current employees. No company is perfect, and every organization should be open to improvements. 

What are some ideas of diversity-focused inclusion policies? 

  • Extend opportunities for flexible work hours
  • Offer translations within your workplace app so employees can use their native language
  • Use gender-neutral language in job descriptions
  • Allow employees to take off for holidays and events outside of federal holidays (Juneteenth, Pride, etc.)
  • Print inclusive bathroom signs
  • Create a parental leave policy
  • Point out interruptions in meetings so everyone has a chance to share
  • Ensure your workspace is handicap accessible (or remote-friendly)
  • Assess your hiring practices and requirements for unconscious bias to create a diverse pool of applicants 

Though simple, these small policies above have huge potential for organizations. Small things like being talked over at meetings or not having the ability to take an afternoon off for a childcare emergency all affect the workplace. Though these might not seem huge in the grand scheme of things, they add up to limited workplace diversity. 

3. Celebrate Differences

Moreover, many companies like to share stats about their diversity, but how often do they take the time to celebrate these differences? Give your team a chance to share differences, showcase what’s important to them, and become active members of the group. From team potlucks to celebration months, it’s important to make sure your employees feel comfortable bringing their “whole selves” to work. 

One example of a company that excels at celebrating differences is the financial management company BlackRock. At BlackRock, over 80% of their employees participate in one of their 15 impact networks. These connect employees with the diverse range of backgrounds and experiences that shape their overall culture. They’re also a founding member of the World Economic Forum’s Partnering for Racial Justice in Business Initiative. 

Their hard work to create a diverse, accepting workplace paid off. They’re listed as #1 on Refinitiv’s 2020 Diversity & Inclusion Index out of over 10,000 companies. With few financial service providers boasting such impressive stats, this is quite the accomplishment. By celebrating employee differences, they’re better equipped to serve clients of diverse backgrounds as well. This is something their audience responds to, and it continues to set them apart in a competitive space. 

4. Ask for Feedback

Similarly, it’s essential to always be open to feedback from employees. When employees don’t feel heard or valued, companies don’t always notice until it’s too late. When you ask for feedback, you gain insight into your current strengths and weaknesses. You also have the opportunity to seek the support you need. 

Though over half of Americans agree that their place of work has diversity policies in place, a reported 45% of workers still experienced some form of discrimination or harassment. Additionally, the majority of women in the workforce feel excluded from decision-making and don’t feel comfortable sharing their opinions. This means there’s a disconnect between policies and the real-life nature of most workplaces. 

The software company Salesforce wasn’t afraid to ask for employee feedback, even when it might sound uncomfortable. By creating their Office of Equality, they built a safe space within their office to hold open and candid conversations about race, gender, and equality. This led to the development of their Equality Mentorship program and Executive Leadership Council to focus on promoting and developing underrepresented minorities. 

5. Measure Your Progress

Last but not least, measure and track your progress. Building diversity into your workplace culture doesn’t happen overnight. It takes constant time, energy, and resources. Though many companies today think it’s as simple as slapping a diversity pledge on their hiring page, this is truly not enough.

What metrics are important when monitoring your diversity efforts?

  • Increased representation of minorities at all levels 
  • Boosted employee retention
  • Fewer harassment and discrimination complaints
  • Improved engagement and productivity
  • Decrease in pay disparities

Aside from keeping track of your own statistics, continue asking for feedback. Quarterly employee satisfaction surveys and meetings with new and existing employees are a great way to gain insights. Diversity is far from one-and-done. However, by committing to work on this long-term, you can reap more benefits for your workplace. 

The social media management tool Buffer makes their progress public with their diversity dashboard. This real-time dashboard reflects different demographics amongst their employees. From non-native English speakers to gender and ethnicity, this is a unique way to stay transparent while also working to do better. Consumers are interested in diverse, inclusive businesses more than ever before, so this type of transparency is only helpful. 

Create a Welcoming Place to Work

Ultimately, every workplace should strive for increased diversity and inclusivity. These are more than just buzzwords. They reflect a real change in the structure of today’s workplaces. Not only are consumers supporting diverse businesses, but employees are seeking opportunities that represent their own values. 

With these tips above, it’s possible to build diversity within the foundation of your workplace culture. Diversity comes from within, and it should be at all levels of your organization. Workplace diversity has become increasingly important. Now is the best time to take action. This isn’t just a trend. It’s the right way to do business in today’s world. 

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